Sweets for the Sweet, Indeed

I have a shocking confession: I don’t think food and passion mix.

By: Pat Tanner


Photo by Pat Tanner
Classic heart-shaped confections created by Edwige "Pouchon" Fils-Aime for his Little Chef Pastry Shop on Tulane Street.

   I have a shocking confession: I don’t think food and passion mix. Don’t get me wrong: I believe that cooking for those you care for — family, friends, sweethearts — is an act of love. And a candlelight dinner can be a romantic intoxicant, without doubt. But a fancy meal laden with rich dishes and, often, drunk with too much alcohol, just doesn’t make sense as a precursor to what is, at essence, a physical activity for which all the senses should be alert. It makes even less sense if one of the partners is exhausted from slaving in the kitchen.
   Which is why I initially looked askance at "InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook," by Martha Hopkins and Randall Lockridge, which promises to bring "heart-melting dishes to the table, the bed, or wherever one might be entertaining."
   What it contains for the most part, though, are recipes that do a good job of engaging all the senses, making them truly "sensual." Each chapter focuses on one food historically thought to have aphrodisiac powers, because of its suggestive shape (chilies, figs, avocados), or its nutritional properties (oysters, for example, are high in zinc, a key ingredient in the production of testosterone), or its powers as a stimulant (coffee, chocolate, honey). The recipes I like best are light (many employing citrus or tropical fruits) and combine sweet and spicy. Nice symbolism, that.
   Of course, they still assume someone is doing the cooking. Bringing in dinner is an increasingly popular alternative, and almost every supermarket or gourmet take-out shop offers special dishes and entire menus for this purpose.
   The Valentine’s menu at Chez Alice on Nassau Street in Princeton caught my eye because many of its choices fit my criteria. For example, Seared Pork Tenderloin with Caramelized Onions, Pineapple, and Leeks ($15.95/lb), has that touch of tropical sweetness, as does the passion fruit vinaigrette recipe that follows. I particularly like passion fruit, both for its name and because it emits an exotic, enticing aroma.
   Many of the Chez Alice choices employ a simple device — the heart — to connote romance. These include heart croutons floated on French onion soup with gruyere; savory seafood salad in heart-shaped puff pastry shells, and, of course, an array of heart-shaped cakes, tarts and cookies.
   Around the corner on Tulane Street, Edwige "Pouchon" Fils-Aime concentrates solely on sweets at his Little Chef Pastry Shop, which opened last August.
   For Valentine’s Day Mr. Fils-Aime is offering a range of classic heart-shaped confections in individual portions ($7 each). He first makes heart-shaped cups using Valrhona chocolate, then fills them with mixtures like chocolate hazelnut meringue, raspberry-dark chocolate ganache, or raspberry mousse layered with vanilla sponge. Last, he caps the cups with another layer of chocolate and attaches them to bases made of buttery sable cookies. Heart-shaped, of course.
   Serving rich, store-bought desserts, especially those that are shaped like hearts, meets my criteria for a passionate Valentine’s celebration. But only if served at the very end of the evening’s activities.
   If you’re serving a soup course, you can make it romantic by floating heart-shaped croutons on top right before serving. Use a small, heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out hearts from thin-sliced white bread, such as Pepperidge Farm. (Do not use crusts.) Place the hearts on a cookie sheet and toast until lightly golden in a 375-degree oven. For simple hors d’oeuvres, use a slightly larger heart-shaped cookie cutter to make the toasts. Then top with your sweetheart’s favorite jarred tapenade or caponata. (You can also use French bread, just cut rounds from a baguette and cut with the cookie cutter.)
   Coeur du Berry is a delicious, mild and creamy heart-shaped goat cheese that is covered with vegetable ash (which is edible). It is available at many cheese shops this time of year, including at Bon Appetit Fine Foods in the Princeton Shopping Center, where 8-ounce hearts sell for $8.99. (At Chez Alice, they offer Coeur du Berry with strawberries.)
   Wegmans Markets stock a French triple-cream Brie called Delice de Gourmet that is shaped like a teardrop. When two are placed side by side they form a heart, which is a nice metaphor for romance. One can also be cut in half for the same effect.
"InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook,"
by Martha Hopkins & Randall Lockridge
(Terrace Publishing, 1997)
1 teaspoon framboise
   1 teaspoon kirsch
   8 ounces chilled extra-dry Champagne
   Fresh raspberries for garnish
Pour half the framboise and half the kirsch into 2 chilled Champagne glasses. Tilt glasses to coat. Add champagne and top with 1 or 2 raspberries.
   Makes 2 drinks.
   1 cup chilled passion fruit blend nectar
   ½ teaspoon Angostura bitters
   1 cup chilled champagne or other sparkling white wine
   4 fresh raspberries or small strawberries
   1 orange slice, cut in half
Divide nectar and bitters between 2 chilled champagne flutes. Add champagne. Drop 2 berries into each drink.
   Garnish with orange.
   Makes 2 drinks.
Executive Chef James Luque,
Chez Alice, Princeton
   3 passion fruits, ripe and fresh
   ¼ cup sugar
   1 cup olive oil
   1 cup rice vinegar
   1 tablespoon garlic
   Salt and pepper to taste
Puree all ingredients except the oil in a blender. Slowly add oil until emulsified. Serve over mixed greens. (At Chez Alice, passion fruit vinaigrette is offered with a salad of baby mesclun with toasted almonds, Granny Smith Apples, and shredded Gruyere, $6.95/half pound.)
Pat Tanner can be heard each Saturday morning on "Dining Today with Pat Tanner" on MoneyTalk AM 1350 from 9 to 10 a.m.